President Lukashenko’s record since his election in 1994 is grim. His March 2006 reelection with more than 80 per cent of the vote was a good example of how ruthlessly the former state-farm manager runs the country. Foreign journalists were deported during the campaign, while Belarusian journalists were brutally arrested.
The independent media have been virtually eliminated and the government monopoly of printing and distribution facilities makes it easy to crush any attempt by journalists to defy the authorities. Sometimes the only solution is to go underground, returning to the Soviet era of “samizdats” (clandestine copying and distribution of forbidden material).
Copies of independent newspapers were often seized in 2007 and 2008, while activists and journalists alike were arrested prior to opposition demonstrations. According to the state-owned daily Sovietskaya Bielorussiya, the president said he wanted to “put an end to anarchy on the Internet” and cited China’s example. This has fueled fears that the opportunities for free expression online will soon be curtailed.
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